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Hampton Roads Community News

Taking It To The Streets: Suffolk Clergy, Officials Promote Community Engagement

Randy Singleton
Community Correspondent
New Journal and Guide

Zoe Ministries VA teamed up with Suffolk officials to launch a community walk-through in the Saratoga neighborhood on Monday, November 16, 2021. The goals of the event were to promote community engagement with faith leaders and law enforcement officials, bring awareness of and marshal local resources and agencies to reduce crime, and ask for resident input about the needs and concerns of the neighborhood.

The event was spearheaded by Jay Hannah, who serves as an assistant minister at a local church. Hannah has an extensive background in law enforcement. He previously served as an assistant police chief in charge of field operations in Norfolk for over 31 years and headed the Norfolk International Airport police force for 9 years.
Rev. Ernest Simmons has served as a supportive spiritual guide during the planning stages and launch of this initial community engagement project.

During an in-depth interview, Jay Hannah said that the project wants to target 3 neighborhoods that have experienced an uptick in crime: Saratoga, Central Ave, Lee and Jackson Streets. Hannah called the recent rise in violent crimes in these neighborhoods “unacceptable.” He said that he wants the faith leaders and local law enforcement officials to go into these neighborhoods and “find out what’s going on.” Hannah said that he wants the initiative to (1) reduce crime (2) reduce the fear of crime (3) improve relationships between local governmental agencies. Hannah believes that this will take away the opportunity for crime to occur. Hannah said that he understands that some residents may, out of fear, be reluctant to talk to faith leaders and law enforcement officials during the community walk but he wants his efforts to help bridge this communications gap in order to bring all community stakeholders closer together.

“Team work makes the dream work” is the adage that the organizers of the community walk-through Saratoga embrace. The community walk participants met outside of the police station on Washington Street.

Participants included Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman, Suffolk Interim Police Chief Alfred S. Chandler, 3 members of Suffolk City Council, 2 members of the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department, and Delegate Clint Jenkins. The community walkers knocked on doors and talked to residents about neighborhood concerns as they canvassed Wellons and Smith Streets.

Rev. Ernest Simmons said that Zoe Ministries VA was providing direct assistance to these distressed communities by setting up a help-line phone number, a FaceBook page, and a website.

Rev. Simmons best summed up the collaborative effort, when he told this reporter, “Brother, let the community know, ‘Help is on the Way!’”

Photo by Randy Singleton


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